Advertising
Advertising

Your Favorite Productivity Books

Your Favorite Productivity Books
Productivity Books Recommendations

    Last week, I asked you to recommend your favorite productivity book to a friend or colleague you saw struggling to keep on top of thing. You responded with several great suggestions which I’ll recap below.

    Of course, the idea was somewhat contrived — hopefully you don’t go around handing out book recommendations to everyone you see struggling (unless you’re that guy). Sometimes we offer a little tip, a piece of advice culled from some book or from our own experience, or at the other extreme we might suggest an organization coach. And, of course, reading about productivity and organization isn’t for everyone; you may know people who would be better served by a video, a lecture, or a workshop.

    Still, I think it’s an interesting question to launch our “We Ask, You Answer” series with, since many of us read a variety of books seeking advice on productivity, organization, and overall life success. I half expected a string of responses saying the same thing — David Allen’s Getting Things Done — but I was pleasantly surprised at the range of books people recommended.

    Advertising

    I (foolishly?) promised to offer my own favorite in my follow-up post, and I’ve spent the last week thinking of what I could offer here. My post on Charles Mingus’ Beneath the Underdog, Improvise Like a Jazz Musician, was one outcome of that process, as I pushed myself to think creatively about the limits of the genre of personal productivity literature. But I’d hardly recommend Beneath the Underdog to anyone struggling to get a grip on a runaway schedule! It’s a brilliant piece of work, but not exactly down-to-earth advice.

    Instead, I have to pick exactly what I was afraid everyone else would pick: Getting Things Done. Personal honesty precludes any other choice, since I actually have given copies of GTD to three people. It’s not the system, though — I don’t practice anything all that close to “orthodox” GTD. What I like about Allen’s book is the matter-of-fact, common sense way he approaches the problem of personal productivity. The core message of Getting Things Done is, in my estimation:

    We all have a bunch of stuff to do, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientists to wrangle it all into some sort of order. So stop worrying so much about keeping track of everything; write it down, and do it.

    The rest is, as they say, commentary. The tickler file, the inboxes, the 2-minute rule, the contexts, the someday/maybe list, the 10,000/20,000/30,000/etc. foot views, all of it. The main problem I see others dealing with, and the problem Allen directly deals with, is the anxiety people face when they begin to feel overwhelmed and start doubting whether they’re keeping on top of all their obligations.

    Several of you (Justin Prud’homme, Ravindran, Jens Poder, and Chat) agreed, at least about the book if not about the reasons. Justin also recommended Allen’s follow-up, Ready for Anything, a collection of 52 meditations/advices that expand ideas brought up in Getting Things Done. Chat bought a copy of GTD for her mother for Christmas (hopefully mom doesn’t read lifehack! At least, not until Christmas…), agreeing that it’s not the whole system that’s important but the approach to remembering and prioritizing tasks that makes the biggest impact in many people’s lives.

    Jens Poder made an interesting and, I think, useful distinction between “personal leadership” and “personal efficiency”, recommending GTD to people who need to get a grip on their personal organizational habits and Steven Covey’s The 7 Habits of Effective People for people whose issues lay less in getting things done and more in creating and implementing a vision. Vamsi agreed with Jens’ recommendation, calling 7 Habits “the bible” of personal productivity.

    Advertising

    As Jens says, GTD and 7 Habits are “the usual suspects”, but for good reason: many people have found their lives improved by reading these books and following the principles Allen and Covey outline. But they are far from being the only books out there, and you came up with lots of other books offering different strategies and different philosophies for taking charge of your out-of-control life. Some of these I’ve read, but many I had not only not read but had never even heard of, so it was doubly interesting for me to read your responses.

    Teknitis and Kevin X both recommended lifehack contributor Leo Babauta’s new e-book Zen to Done, which offers a “boiled down” take on the GTD system, with a few twists. I’m just starting to read this, and will offer a full review here at lifehack later on. If you’ve read Leo’s work, though, either here or at his blog Zen Habits, you know that Leo has a likeable and approachable writing voice and a real kind of wisdom in his writings; Zen to Done looks to be more of the same, focused tightly around the question of personal productivity habits.

    Another book with multiple recommendations was Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit, which drew attention from both KRS and Jan. Fiore’s approach deals with some of the underlying issues that cause us to overload ourselves with work and then procrastinate getting it done; as KRS says, you have to deal with this stuff before any system is going to have much of a result.

    Advertising

    Both Kevin and RDH recommended Timothy Ferris’ The 4-Hour Work Week, which runs a close runner-up for the top place on my own list. Ferris is a remarkable character, and has managed to free up his life so that he can follow his own muse, wherever it leads him, while still making a decent living. Central to his book is the idea of mini-retirements — why work your whole life for a retirement you’re too old to enjoy, when you can explore the world now and still earn enough to live well. 4HWW is definitely inspirational, and a must-read in my opinion for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

    Rounding up the rest of the titles, we have:

    • 101 Ways to have a Business and a Life by Andrew Griffiths. Tully recommended this, saying it has “plenty of practical stuff for business owners and consultants”.
    • Time Power by Charles R Hobbs. Charles says Hobbs encourages a process of “firmly establishing ‘unifying principles’, developing goals which have ‘congruity’ with these principles, and applying a ‘concentration of power’ to work those things which are most important”. Apparently this one is out of print, but nowadays there’s plenty of ways to get your hands on an out-of-print book.
    • Steve recommended his own article How to Supercharge Your Productivity.
    • The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. According to Marie, who recommended this one, Loehr and Schwartz remind us that it’s not only ok to slow down and take a breath once in a while, but that it’s crucial!
    • TexasEx94 recommends Seize the Workday and Total Workday Control by Michael Linenberger; Craig Huggart seconds the recommendation for Total Workday Control, calling it “the best book on getting up to speed quickly with the Getting Things Done system”.
    • Glenn recommends The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker for anyone in management. I haven’t read this one, but am currently working my way through The Daily Drucker, a collection of quotes, tips, and observations on working more effectively. There’s a lot of good stuff there, which is about what you’d expect from a man who lived and worked for nearly a century.
    • Sangreal recommends two books by Mark Foster: Get Everything Done and Still Have Time To Play for the person who’s drowning and needs an immediate lifeline, and Do It Tomorrow for the person who’s not quite buried but needs a little push to get the most out of their days.
    • Sangreal also made the seemingly odd recommendation of books on organization for people with ADHD. I actually picked up a book for ADHD sufferers by accident at the library one time, and to be honest, there was quite a lot of good advice there. More and more, we live in an “ADHD world”, so even if you’re not an “official” ADHD patient, much of the advice that applies to them is likely to apply to you as well.
    • And last but not least, L.H. suggests we have a look at Tony Robbins’ Time of your Life.

    Thanks to everyone for their recommendations — there’s a lot here to expand the personal productivity bookshelf of any GTD’er, and with Christmas coming up and Hannukah already well underway, perhaps this list will give you some ideas for gifts for your own frazzled friends and family members!

    Advertising

    More by this author

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works) Building Relationships: 11 Rules for Self-Promotion How to Become an Expert (And Spot out One Nearby)

    Trending in Productivity

    1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 What to Do When Bored at Work (And Why You Feel Bored Actually) 3 6 Effective Ways to Enhance Your Problem Solving Skills 4 How to Concentrate and Focus Better to Boost Productivity 5 15 Productive Things to Do When Bored (So Time Is Not Wasted)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

    Advertising

    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

    Advertising

    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

    Advertising

    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

    Advertising

    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

    Read Next